Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

12 OCTOBER, 2011

Nurturing Walls: Indian Women’s Stunning Tribal Art Tradition

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What baby birds and tattooed camels have to do with motherhood and the authenticity of public art.

For generations, the women of the Meena tribe in India’s Rajasthan state have been decorating the walls and floors of their homes with a stunning form of public art both graphic and decorative known as Mandana painting, using a white paste made of rice and milk to paint intricate motifs on these brown mud surfaces. This remarkable craft is passed down from mother to daughter, and the drawings themselves often depict maternal motifs of birds and animals with their young.

From the fine folks at Tara Books, who brought us such hand-crafted gems as The Night Life of Trees and I Like Cats, comes Nurturing Walls — a tender tribute to the Mandana tradition of public art and the women who make it. The book itself is a piece of art, printed on thick brown craft-paper that mirrors the mud walls of Meena homes and silk-screened by hand in Tara Books’ fair-trade workshop in Chennai. Each image in every book is thus an original print, and the pages themselves emit the rich earthy smell of artisanal craft.

Between the breathtaking silkscreens you’ll find vibrant full-color photographs that offer a glimpse of the lives of these extraordinary Meena artists and contextualize the Mandana artwork in its place in the local community, revealing a kind of authenticity foreign to our culture of conjoined art and commerce.

There is something very moving about the way these humble women are driven to be creative, in lived, everyday sense. It gives us much to reflect on what we take for granted as the provenance of art: for one, their painting is not the unique creation of any single individual but a tradition grown in a community. The work is not produced for a market, but for themselves, as well as the community at large. And viewed in the context of their lives, art doesn’t seem to be a luxury that has to be bought by opportunities and free time.” ~ Gita Wolf

A poetic pinnacle of tribal art, Nurturing Walls sets ajar the door to a fascinating world where beauty, community and tradition live in their purest, most inspired form.

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12 OCTOBER, 2011

How Radio Broadcasting Works: An Animated Explanation from 1937

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From oscillator to audience, or how the music of the orchestra travels from the studio to your home.

In 1909, radio pioneer Charles “Doc” Herrold made his first broadcast in what would soon become KCBS news radio, the world’s first broadcasting station. Even though he didn’t invent radio itself — Marconi did — Radio quickly became a powerful disseminator of culture, entertainment and, as 40 years of NPR attest, necessary critical thinking. But how does radio broadcasting actually work? In 1937, the Handy (Jam) Organization (which you might recall) produced On The Air, a fascinating piece of vintage edutainment explaining exactly that, from how the microphone converts sound waves into electrical currents to how audio waves travel from studio to audience, in under 10 minutes.

For more on how radio revolutionized modern communication, see Anthony Rudel’s excellent Hello, Everybody!: The Dawn of American Radio.

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12 OCTOBER, 2011

The Anatomy of Influence: Mapping the Labyrinth of Literature

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What Leo Tolstoy can teach us about curation.

Understanding creative influence is essential to understanding remix culture and a centerpiece of combinatorial creativity. I recently collaborated with illustrator extraordinaire Wendy MacNaughton and Michelle Legro of Lapham’s Quarterly of a subjective visualization of creative influence in literature and other arts, but this ecosystem of cross-pollination is far more layered and complex than a playful graphic could possibly convey. The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life is Harold Bloom’s ambitious effort to peel away at these many layers. Bloom, who for the past half-century has been exploring that ecosystem as a Yale literature professor and contemporary culture’s most significant literary critic, offers insight on 30 of the world’s most iconic writers, from Shakespeare to Joyce to Emerson, and examines issues ranging from the role of “creative misreading” in the joy of literature to the supreme fiction of the romantic self to the influence of a mind on itself.

Literature for me is not merely the best part of life; it is itself the form of life, which has no other form.” ~ Harold Bloom

The book is a follow-up to Bloom’s 1973 classic, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, and was inspired by Robert Burton’s 1621 masterpiece, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Of that influence, Bloom writes:

Traces of Burton’s marvelous madness abound in this book, and yet it may be that all I share with Burton is an obsessiveness somewhat parallel to his own. Burton’s melancholy emanated from his fantastic learning: he wrote to cure his learnedness. My book isolates literary influence as the agon of influence, and perhaps I write to cure my own sense of having been overinfluenced since childhood by the great Western authors.”

But the part that captivated me the most was this quote from a Leo Tolstoy letter in the book’s epigraph, which articulates the essence of my own curatorial sense of purpose better than I ever could:

For art criticism we need people who would show the senselessness of looking for ideas in a work of art, and who instead would continually guide readers in that endless labyrinth of linkages that makes up the stuff of art, and bring them to the laws that serve as the foundation for those linkages.”

A true treat for literati and remixologists alike, The Anatomy of Influence is an exquisite paean to the love of literature, one that pulls you into its enthusiasm with equal parts mesmerism and cunning precision.

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